WHY IS A LIE – START WITH WHAT.
More impressions from Awakening the Servant Leader
Below is a second essay of thoughts and reflections, from this thought-provoking book: Selfless Leadership: A Complete Guide to Awakening the Servant Leader Within by Katrijn Van Oudheusden. These are not necessarily those of other book club participants or the author.
I am using this definition of essay: analytic or interpretative literary composition usually dealing with its subject from a limited or personal point of view as a caveat that this is neither comprehensive or authoritative, and with that in mind I welcome feedback, suggestions and recommendations for further reading.
START WITH WHAT
I think Simon Sinek is witty, clever but occasionally wrong on some things. His book “Start with Why” is an outstanding best seller will millions of people clicking like and reposting in an effort to align with the Zeitgeist.
However if looking for a job or starting a business my instinct is to start with WHAT can I do? Or if I am more customer focused WHAT do they want or need? When we meet people we ask WHAT do you do? On a Monday after the weekend we might enquire WHAT did you get up to?
As a Coach or Mediator I usually avoid WHY questions because they come across as accusatory or judgmental. Compare the following…
Question: What did you do next? What happened then? What happened next?
Question: Why did you [action]? Why did you [thought/feeling]? Why do you [behaviour]?
I think WHAT questions help us understand actions, events, processes, patterns, routines, habits, and more as a factual objective assessment. I think WHY questions interrogate subjective assessment of motive, belief, responsibility.
Aristotle said we are WHAT we repeatedly do: that success is a habit. That WHAT we do forms our character and informs who we are. WHAT we do establishes our place I the world, our relationships with others, indeed our value as a person.
WHY is somewhat egotistical and latent.
Indeed WHY, particularly when asked after the fact is simply justification, excuse, obscuration. It is used to protect the ego and make us feel good. Look at any politician, expert or child caught-out or having to offer an explanation and you’ll see what I mean.
Van Oudheusden’s suggests, with some evidence from science, that our reasons for doing things are contrived by the conscious after the autonomic system or unconscious has already committed to them. This is simply the rational mind coming up with a narrative for events that are already ongoing.
WITH NO EGO THERE IS NO WHY
I accept that some of the ideas here may be a little challenging. They are for me. But they seem worth considering, and possibly observing as each day’s events unfolds without prior orchestration by our ego. It is not that we cannot predict or anticipate, but preparation and probability is not causality.
Katrijn Van Oudheusden’s book suggests to me that we are part of a complex adaptive system. You may call this nature, society or culture. We are part of it just as the sea is part of nature or a tree part of the forest. In this context WHAT we do is a response to circumstances, just as we ourselves influence those circumstances. The idea that we control anything, that things happen through sheer force of our WHY motivation is simply as daft as saying the tree exerts a will over the forest or the sea imposes itself on the shore.
Van Oudheusden’s book seems to suggest that if we switch-off our ego hungry and existential WHY and instead pay attention to these events, processes, patterns, routines, habits we may be happier and better aligned and able to contribute to the things and people around us.
If someone is cold, tired, sick, hungry our best response is WHAT we do. The WHY does not seem to add much, except to our ego. I’ve never had a client ask me WHY I want to help people, but they will ask WHAT can I do to support them.
In any collective our reasons WHY may be very different, but WHAT is the thing that unites. Take for example a rowing team. I don’t deny WHY is important, especially due to the ego-driven mental toughness, but its WHAT they do as a team that wins medals, or addresses societies biggest challenges.
WHAT we do in terms of events, processes, patterns, routines, habits matters far more to the planet than then short-term WHY that lasts no longer than our ego and less than the duration of our lives.
I highly recommend Katrijn Van Oudheusden book and following her on LinkedIn where you will find many interesting resources.
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